Text: Deuteronomy 32:36-39
Our Old Testament lesson for today comes from the conclusion of what is called the Song of Moses. It is one of the last things that Moses would speak to the Israelites, whom he had led through the desert for the last forty years. Moses tells the people that even though they continually turned away from God, and will continue to turn away from God, He will have compassion on them. Moses declares to them that God is the one who will save them and deliver them from their sins.
I. “For the LORD will vindicate His people,” Moses says, “ and have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free.” (v. 36) Moses proclaims the mercy of God as loudly as he possibly can to a people whom he knows all too well.
A. Moses knows the tendency of the Israelites to turn away from God and what He has commanded them in the covenant. He knows that Israel will try to find the newest, most popular way to get what they want, that they will follow after the latest trend in Canaan so that they might have power, and so they walk away from God and His covenant and His promise of grace and mercy. But Moses also knows that the Israelites will be left powerless in their sin, trapped in their own wayward habits and unable to free themselves from their sins. He knows that there is no way that they can free themselves from the death that their sin has earned them. He knows that rather than trust in God and His promise of salvation and life, the Israelites will look elsewhere for their comfort and their salvation.
B. How little things have changed! We are not that much different from Israel, looking outside of what God has given us for the latest craze and popular trend. “Just be a good person,” we're told, “and God will reward you.” Or another one of my favourites, “Think only good thoughts, and you can be a good person that God will bless.” We like these mottos because they put us in the driver seat and make us think that we have the power over our destiny. And we do love power. In the end, though, we find ourselves exhausted because we know that we never quite make the cut. St. Paul declares in Romans 3, verses 10-11 “There is none who is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God.” Like the Israelites, we in our sinful flesh are constantly being pulled away from God. Rather than turn to God and the hope and salvation that He offers to me, I turn away for what feels good now and in return, I am left empty and powerless. Despite our best efforts to find our own way to toward life, we will find that sin still grips at us and that there is no one left alive. As Paul says: “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
C. Yet Moses also knew that God sees that the Israelites are powerless in their sins. Despite the fact they have rejected Him, Moses knows that the Lord will still come and have compassion on them. Much like the parent who has compassion on their child who knows that they have done wrong, God has compassion on them and frees them from their enemies of sin and death. God still has compassion on us too. God sees you powerless, dead in your sin, but rather than give you the punishment that you deserve, God takes that punishment upon Himself on the cross. In God's compassion, He sent His perfect servant, Christ, to the cross to suffer and die to “vindicate His people.” But what does this mean? I confess that I did not know what this word meant and had to look it up. Sometimes “vindicated,” is translated as “judge,” yet this word carries with it more the sense of being declared innocent in court of any wrongdoing. In other words the Israelites will be declared righteous. And this is true for us too! For the sake of Christ, who offered Himself up to death and suffered and died, as you heard in the Gospel this morning, you are declared righteous in His sight. By Christ's death on the cross you are freed from sin and death and by His resurrection you are given new life and the promise of salvation.
II. Yet despite the promises of God that the Israelites have in the promise of the Messiah, and that we have in the promises of Christ, we both continue in our foolishness.
A. “Then He will say, 'Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge, who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their drink offering? Let them rise up and help you; let them be your protection.'” God uses the situation that the Israelites constantly find themselves in to show them the foolishness in chasing after these idols. God shows them that there is no safety in them, there is no comfort or life that can be found in them. Often times people would call a fortress a rock, meaning that it seemed to so strong that it could never fall. The people could take comfort in this fortress, that whenever they were attacked they could gather inside its walls and be protected. The people would take refuge in these fortresses for their own protection and be saved from their enemies outside. Moses tries to make it clear that the “rock” of their neighbours is nothing like the “Rock” that they have in God. The protection that these idols seem to offer from sin and death turn out to a complete sham and leave the people on their own and powerless before God. Jeremiah shows these idols for what they really are: blocks of wood taken from the forest, decorated with gold and silver, maybe polished up to make it look nice and shiny, and then set on the mantle to be worshipped and adored. Jeremiah shows the Israelites that this thing, is just a block of wood and can not speak, walk or do anything, let alone do good or evil.
B. Once again, things haven't changed very much and we still search for those shiny things which the world has to offer us. I am naturally inclined toward those shiny things that offer me pleasure right now: money, cars, sports, gadgets, and these are the things that get the most of my attention, time and money. Like Israel with their idols, though, I am never content with these things, but am always striving to have more. Is it bad to have these things? No, they are blessings from God for which give thanks. We are told in the Ninth and Tenth Commandments that we are not to scheme or deceive our way into getting these nice toys. Instead we are to be content with what God has given us. Israel was blessed in abundance in the promised land, but always wanted to have more. And when it became clear that God might not bring it to them, they offered up the best that they had to these blocks of wood. Once more we see that things are not any different for us. Instead of giving the best of what I have first to God, He'll get the scraps that are left over after I get all these nice, shiny toys. If there's nothing left for Him, “Oops! Sorry! It's all gone!” We place our trust in these idols, spending our time, talents and treasures, hoping that life will be better if we get the new car, or computer, or get more active, or earn more money. But once we have these things we are always left looking for more. Yet these rocks turn out to be no rock at all and can not offer us refuge from death and can not save us from the judgement that will come upon us.
III. It is only after Moses has laid bare the weakness of the Israelites, the foolishness that plagues them, that God comes to them directly and declares to them that He is the one, the only one, who can save them. In another place, God declares loudly in Isaiah 43, “I, I am He who blots out transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember sins.” And again “Be still,” we are told in Psalm 46, “and know that I am God.” These texts confirm what we hear here; namely that God is the Rock, the only one in whom the Israelites can find refuge and take comfort in His promises of forgiveness, life and salvation.
A. Thanks be to God that things have not changed. God is still the one who is able to make you alive. Christ's death on the cross is the ransom paid for you (Mark 10:45). He is a ransom that springs you free from your sins and gives you the free gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23b). We have all been given this free gift in our baptism, where our old sinful nature was drowned and killed and we were brought to life as a new creation in Christ Jesus. Through the ongoing gift of the Holy Spirit, that we received in baptism, we now cling to the cross of Christ where we receive forgiveness for our sins and are brought to everlasting life. It is in the suffering and death of Christ that our sins are washed away “and by His wounds, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
B. The last phrase in our text states that, “There is none that can deliver out of my hand.” There is a story about a ship sailing in the middle of the night, when the call goes out throughout the ship, “Man overboard!” Now this ship is in the middle of the ocean in the dark of night, it's pitch black out there, so there is not much chance of finding their lost crewmate, let alone rescue him. Nevertheless, the crew rallies together and throws a rope over one side of the boat. Miraculously, the rope lands just in front of the overboard sailor and he is saved just before he gets sucked into the blades of ship's propellers. The crew carefully pulls the man back onto the ship, but when they try to pry the rope out of his hands, they find that the hope has been embedded in his hands. The sailor had become one with the object that saved his life. Faith grabs hold of the suffering and death of Christ on the cross and this same promise. It is a promise that Jesus repeats in John 10, “I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they will never parish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Dear friends in Christ you have been placed in His hand through your baptism and even though the temptations and assaults of this world threaten to pull your faith away from Him, Christ also has His grip on you. He is your rock and your fortress that will protect you from all the threats that would pull you away from the cross and the gifts Christ earned for you upon that cross.
In Christ Jesus, God has had compassion on us, His children, who are so deserving of death and judgement. Through the suffering and death of Christ on the cross we are freed from our enemies of sin and death. Through our baptism we join in the resurrection of Christ Jesus and are made alive, new creations in Christ. The compassion and work of God empowers us to remain firm in our faith, placing our trust solely in Him as our rock and fortress that protects from sin, death and the temptations that constantly assail us. God giving us His best to suffer and die on the cross, empowers us to give Him our best each day of our lives. By the suffering and death of Christ on the cross we are healed and made alive and He now grips us tightly as His dear children.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.